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Gender and migration

Dilip Ratha's picture
Last week we heard an excellent presentation of a report - Girls on the Move: Adolescent Girls & Migration in the Developing World - recently published by the Population Council. The topic of gender and migration has been around for a while, but substantive work on this topic that go beyond the anecdotal is yet hard to find. This report is an exception. The strikingly beautiful lay-out - more like a magazine than a policy report - stands in sharp contrast to the relatively tough stories and messages it contains. Some findings: Adolescent girls migrate looking for opportunities for employment and skill acquision; there appears to be more urban-urban than rural-urban migration; migration allows them greater voice within families; and yet these girls face difficulties and risks at every step of the migration process. Main recommendations, to quote:

"Prepare and equip girls before they migrate. Ensure education, life skills, knowledge of rights, IDs. Ensure a smooth landing for migrant girls. Reduce isolation through safe places to stay and links with trusted individuals. Build a safety net. Create time and space for migrant girls to meet with peers, mentors, and support networks. Make health and education services “migrant girl friendly”. Ensure service providers are sensitive to age, sex, and migration status. Test innovative ways to prepare migrant girls for success. Investigate ways to develop girls’ assets before things go wrong. Focus on the most isolated and vulnerable. Design girl-only approaches to reach domestic workers, child brides, & sexually exploited girls. Fill critical evidence gaps. Illuminate age- & sex-disaggregated internal migration rates using new and existing quantitative data. Develop qualitative and longitudinal studies to shed light on migrant girls’ experiences, as well as to evaluate and improve programs. Increase migrant girls’ visibility through policy and advocacy. Maximize the benefits of migration for adolescent girls by increasing their visibility in policy engagement and advocacy efforts."

One couldn't agree more.

At first sight, the development links of girls migrating may not be very different from those of boys migrating: via remittances, skill transfers, social impacts, transfer of values. And yet, especially on long-term social impacts and in particular the impacts on children left behind, migration of girls must be rather serious. Not much rigorous work has been done on these topics, in large part due to lack of data. Improving gender-differentiated migration data is a necessary first step in this respect.

In terms of policy recommendations, one could start by stating that migration of girls and women should not be banned or discouraged, and yet, there is a need to make the migration process more secure. Training of potential migrants, especially financial literacy and language training could significantly improve the development impacts of migration of girls and women.

The Global Knowledge Partnership on Migration and Development (KNOMAD) has identified gender as one of the four cross-cutting themes. For key questions in this topic, check out the KNOMAD website.


Submitted by Ainalem Tebeje on

Middle East: The Raping Fields for Migrant Women Domestic Workers?

By Ainalem Tebeje
On this International Women’s Week, I ask governments in the Middle East, “When will you stop the abuse of migrant women domestic workers who cook your food, clean your homes, look after your children and take care of your elderly parents?” I also ask the governments of Ethiopia, the Philippines and others, “What are you doing to protect these women who keep millions of your families out of poverty by sending remittances earned under difficult circumstances?”
According to the International Labour Organization, the population of migrant domestic workers is growing steadily. A large proportion of these are found in the Middle East where domestic work is primarily performed by migrant women. With the disturbing cases of economic, physical and sexual abuse against these women, the time has come to ask whether the Middle East is becoming “the raping fields” for migrant women domestic workers.
In most Arab countries, maids are not even recognized as workers under the law. According to a study by the International Labour Organization, in the Gulf States, they work, on average, over 100 hours per week. Migrant domestic workers in several Middle Eastern countries face the likelihood of sexual abuse frequently. Often, allegations of rape do not result in charges.
In Lebanon, it is said that one migrant woman on average disappears or dies each week from suicide or while trying to escape, according Nadim Houry, deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa Division of Human Rights Watch.
The Ethiopian domestic worker Alem Dechasa has now become the face and voice of these invisible and voiceless women. Her brutal beating by men in the streets of Beirut, followed by news about her suicide, is a typical story of migrant domestic women workers. Washington-based lawyer Khaled A Beydoun wrote that for Dechasa and thousands of other “voiceless Ethiopian domestic workers” in Lebanon, death, often by suicide, was “the only way out.”
Often, with no money and their passports in the possession of their employers, escape for these women is dangerous, says Graham Peebles in a 2012 article, “Migrant Nightmares: Ethiopian Domestic Workers in the Gulf”.
In Ethiopia, songs were written, dramas staged and testimonials told to discourage women from migrating to the Middle East, but to no avail. Driven by the grinding poverty of the country, young women still flock to the Middle East in search of a better life. The Ethiopian Herald wrote that the Middle East has become the most inhospitable spot on Earth to Ethiopian women, adding, “Several are being killed by their employers.”
True, in 2011, ILO member countries approved the Domestic Workers Convention intended to guarantee “decent work” by addressing some of the injustices. But, according to Nisha Varia, senior researcher in the Women’s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch, “Even though the Middle East and North Africa are home to some of the worst abuses against domestic workers, the pace of legal reforms in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Lebanon has dragged on for years with little to show”.
Given the lack of progress, we must now ask why hasn’t this issue galvanized world reaction. The answer can be found in gender-based analysis. Domestic work is performed by women, locked in private homes, hidden from the public eye and set outside the formal economy. Worse, migrant women come from countries such as Ethiopia, poor and strategically irrelevant.
In doing this analysis, we learn that we are losing a vital human capital, recognized for its value for both countries of origin and countries of destination. For countries of destination, migrant women continue to perform important domestic work, alleviating the emerging global “care crisis”. In the countries of origin, studies have established linkages between remittances and poverty reduction. Remittances sent by maids provide enormous purchasing power to families who use them for food, clothing, shelter, education, and medical and other services.
The death of Alem Dechasha in Beirut would necessarily bring the economic death of her family in Addis Ababa. As more of these women return home penniless, or worse, dead, pregnant, physically or mentally disabled, there is a risk of families falling back to perpetual poverty. As these families multiply, poverty reduction will remain elusive to many countries.
Migrant women domestic workers are changing the face, value and contribution of international migration. It is time for us to write, speak out, take to the streets and ask for real action. What if these women were doctors and nurses from Europe or North America?
Of Ethiopian origin, Ainalem Tebeje is a former journalist who resides in Canada.

Submitted by Clyde Sanger on

Ainalem Tebeje's comment -- which is a commentary in itself about girl
migrants and migrant workers in Arab countries -- is an important
complement to the Population Council's report. I hope it gets wider
circulation. She knows her subject well, working for the Canadian
Government's Status of Women directorate.
Clyde Sanger

Submitted by Kidane Gebremariam on

"Middle East: The Raping Fields for Migrant Women Domestic Workers?" by Ainalem Tebje is an excellent read. The article must receive a great deal of attention as it tries to address crucial issues faced by migrant domestic women workers particularly from Ethiopia and Philippine in the Middle East/ Gulf states. I support Ainalem's that authorities from Ethiopia and Philippine to develop policies/ strategies to protect their citizens by working/ negotiating with the Middle East states. As stated by the article, this subject matter deserves a great deal of attention at the national and international level.

Submitted by ainalem tebeje on

If we recognize remittances as poverty reduction resources, we must then protect those who send them, including migrant women domestic workers who are known not only as faithful in sending monies regularly but also as savvy in their investment as their resources are accompanied by instructions, detailing as to what should be invested where by whom and for what purposes, often targeting areas of greatest need.

Submitted by Frank A. Campbell on

This piece by Ainalem Tebeje is not just a well-researched and well-written article, not just a good read. It is a lucid and long-overdue statement about a subject of international human, humane and humanitarian importance. This statement comes from a woman who knows and who cares, one who is, and has long been, passionate about the crisis confronting countless numbers of women who, together with their families back home, are among the victimized and the voiceless, the missing and the murdered, the deprived and the bereaved. Ainalem is so evidently pained by the too long unheard cries of these women that she has chosen to enhance their faint voices with the power of her intellect and the sincerity of her words. She has chosen to allow their tears to mingle with her own. If we would not hear them, at least let us hear her.

Submitted by Solomon B. Faris on

Ainalem brought up a very interesting and, of course, urgent issue. It is heart wrenching that girls who were supposed to be either in colleges, in viable employment or/and starting a family, foundation for future society, are locked in the living rooms of their masters with bare minimum rights and all the vulnerabilities. I am also worried about what is happening to them as they return to their home countries. With no better options, some of them are forced to commercial sex work unable to meet their newly developed demands. Ainalem's article is a wakeup call to all those who heed!

Submitted by Md. Aminul Islam (Rokon) on

As a management researcher I have explored 250 cases of Domestic Women Migrant workers of the Philippines during 2014. Likewise researched 17 cases with Anti Slavery international during 2012 in Lebanon as a Research Assistant. During my exploratory research with Antislavery and my recent research for my Masters in Development Management at Asian Institute of Management (AIM, have found something more than what Ainalem has cited. I found almost same situation of all the domestic women migrants for the confinement. All the domestic migrant sending nations must raise and bargain with the destination countries even US, UK and other nations for (a)Safety at workplace; (b) Security as a Woman (c)Respect as a Human, Women and Migrant (d) Fair Remuneration. It is a must. It must be done through a coordinated Policy research for Advocacy evidence creation; Mass community sensitization to raise voice together from each part of the globe; Media Mobilization on Women domestic migration vulnerability in the destination countries. Besides we need behavior change sensitization among the destination country employers. Are we ready? Anyone may Skype me to discuss. I am bringing all these in my book.

Submitted by ainalem tebeje on

Replying to MD Aminul Islam:
I agree with your findings. In my literature review, I also came across the following most common abuses: 1. confinement; 2. starvation and 3. sexual abuse. Can you please send me the link for your publications?

I would be happy to be part of any global effort to bring this issue to the international community.

I would be happy to join any effort to raise awareness and push for policy interventions to stop the

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